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Originally published July 31 2014

OkCupid unapologetically confesses to experimenting on users, calls for Americans to wake up to nature of tech companies

by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) A popular online dating website is reportedly losing thousands of subscribers after its president came forward publicly to admit that the site had intentionally misled and manipulated its users. OkCupid president Christian Rudder told the media that the popular dating portal had conducted experiments on users without their consent, defending these actions with claims that this is "how websites work."

The New York Times (NYT) announced that OkCupid had released the results of three different experiments it conducted on its users, one of which intentionally matched "incompatible" users with each other as if they were solid matches. In another experiment, OkCupid hid users' profile photos for seven hours to see if their interactions would change as a result. And in a third test, profile text was truncated or omitted to see how personality ratings might be affected.

Each of the experiments took place without OkCupid notifying users, at least not until after they had all been taken advantage of. The purpose, stated Rudder, was to evaluate how easy it is to manipulate OkCupid users without their knowing it, a deviant marketing ploy that Rudder seems to think is completely normal for online businesses.

"If you use the Internet, you're the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site," he wrote on OkCupid's official blog. "That's how websites work."

Outrage quickly erupted following the announcement, with OkCupid users across the web denouncing the site and promising to end their digital relationship with it. Many said they felt betrayed, as their purpose in using the site was to find real compatibility with a potential mate, not to be used as a human guinea pig in an exploitative experiment.

"I just deleted my account [because] of this story," tweeted one for OkCupid member on Twitter. "[I]nvading privacy [is] not good."

OkCupid's famous matching algorithm a fraud, as company president admits site doesn't know what it's doing

The ploy was about a lot more than just experimentation, though. In an admission on his company's blog, Rudder also spilled the beans about the site's famous matching algorithm, which apparently isn't as accurate as users were initially led to believe. In fact, Rudder admitted that the entire OkCupid platform is essentially one big ship without a sail.

"OkCupid doesn't really know what it's doing," he wrote.

Rudder also tried to claim that the experiments, which ultimately led to increased communication among users that normally wouldn't have communicated with each other, was meant to help improve the functionality of the site. But others have suggested that simpler and more "natural" experiments would have sufficed, and with a lot less deception.

"We use natural experiments to overcome ethical problems that arise in randomized experiments," stated Dr. Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, a professor of social strategy at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland, to NYT. Dr. Piskorski says such experiments are "ethically hard," comparing them to medical experiments where patients who think they are receiving a placebo actually receive the real drug.

"Social science is becoming subject to the same problems. ... I think the websites should consider more of these natural experiments even though they are harder to pull off."

Social media giant Facebook was in the news recently for similar non-consensual experiments. According to reports, Facebook intentionally altered the news "feeds" or more than 700,000 users to see if emotional manipulation in an online environment is contagious, a move that some privacy experts say may have violated the law in certain areas.

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